The past few decades have seen staggering advances in technology, but government has been left behind, saddled with outdated and inefficient software, while costs have exploded into the hundreds of billions. That means there’s both the imperative and the market for new, disruptive startups.
Code for America, a national nonprofit backed by the Kauffman Foundation and Google, is now recruiting teams to do just that with its first-of-its-kind Civic Startup Accelerator. As the name implies, this is an initiative targeted at early-stage startups in the civic/government arena. The link contains more information about the program specifics, but essentially there is some funding support and mentoring opportunities; the application deadline is June 1. The mentoring aspect of the program is important; it’s noteworthy that other successful accelerators like TechStars, Y Combinator, and the like also place heavy emphasis on mentorship. If you look at the research conducted by e.g. Toby E. Stuart and others, you see robust evidence on the importance of networks for entrepreneurs.
People across the political spectrum lament about the public sector lagging behind the private sector in efficiency and adoption of new innovations. This is not a new problem. What is new, and what I think makes organizations like Code for America so interesting, are developments and interest in massive data analysis.
The government is a gigantic part of our economy and generator of significant amounts of pure, raw data that we don’t even know what to do with. Anyone can play with this data, but the novelty and lack of established players lends this kind of work to startups, which are primed to figure out meaningful ways to use data.
What exactly are we talking about when we say ‘using data’? Steven Johnson wrote an interesting piece in Wired two years ago using New York City 311 call data. Those city subway/train/bus route apps on your smartphone? Possible thanks to city governments opening up their data. The recently released Kauffman Foundation health care report contains plenty of discussion and ideas for both the public and private sector.
I for one am very interested to see what kind of startups come out of this project, and am hopeful for their success.